So often when this ground is full and the sun is up, the masses sit, singing, clapping, ululating and listening to politicians address them.But yesterday, they queued impatiently for hours for maize.
Weekend Nation yesterday witnessed first-hand the agony that hundreds of the country’s poor citizens endure in search of the staple food, maize, amid threats of even bigger hunger looming in the coming days.
We arrived at Masintha ground at exactly 05:05am, hoping to capture the arrival of the first group of people seeking to buy maize at the makeshift Admarc maize depot, but we were greeted by long queues stretching over half a kilometer.
At the top of the queue, a woman in her early 40s, clutching a one-year-old baby and covering herself and her bay with a blanket, said she had slept at the depot having arrived there at 7pm the previous day.
“We have no maize at home, our family has three children, I need to feed them all,” said the woman who asked not to be named, but she said she was from the nearby Kawale One Township.
Several women and youthful men narrated similar tales of waking up early in the morning to buy maize at the depot.
The women complained how upon sleeping at the open ground, which is famous for political campaigns, face fights from mostly unruly youths and vendors who try to squeeze them out of queues.
“Only God knows if we will succeed to buy the maize. We have camped since last night braved the cold weather and mosquitoes bites, thank God there was no rain. But sometimes people just start chaos to disturb the queues so that someone who was at the head of the line fails to buy maize.
‘‘There are too many vendors here who come to buy and re-sell and people just want to go back home,” quipped Agnes Phiri also from Kawale.
As we spoke to the women, a group of youths and a woman angrily demanded that the Weekend Nation crew depart the scene, questioning the timing of the inquiries, but they were stopped in their tracks by other buyers.
“These are the vendors, who connive with Admarc officials here. They are afraid we will reveal what they do here. We can’t allow them to do that,” said a youthful buyer who volunteered to act as our body guard.
The issue of vendors flooding Admarc depots and re-selling the now scarce commodity at exorbitant prices is what prompted President Peter Mutharika on Wednesday to address the nation. He warned that the police would arrest anyone found profiteering from the maize from Admarc.
Mutharika said: ‘‘This is outrageous and most criminal. It is moral recklessness which I am not going to tolerate, or allow to continue. I strongly warn anyone against such atrocities. This has to stop immediately.”
But activist Billy Mayaya dismissed Mutharika’s intervention, yesterday, saying what the President was doing was a misplaced blame game, and stressed that government must take decisive action to solve the problem instead of issuing rhetoric.
Said Mayaya: “We elect leaders to represent us and fulfil our aspirations. What we are seeing is a president pushing blame on vendors and institutions. The vendors and institutions can be controlled; he just has to take action.’’
Over 2.8 million Malawian are food insecure currently, according to the Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee (Mvac) but the threat of El Nino which is hitting southern Africa has heightened fears that many more will join the long list in need of food aid. n